Hey Harvey!

Posted on Dec 16th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Contrary Opinion, Fallout 76, No Mans Sky, Dead Space 3, nope not the game.com

Before going further, a note on an apologist: they aren't "apologizing" as we know it (saying sorry,) rather they are "a person who makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc." from the Greek/late Latin "apologia". (Referenced from Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster, and a few theology classes many years ago.)

I honestly don't intend to be a contrarian at heart.  I'm not cool enough to be a hipster that only likes what no one else does, and while I often defend the underdog, I still won't stand by them if I think they are wrong.  Ask me what sports team I'm rooting for, I usually say the losing one.  (Why would the winning one need it?  I don't get sports.)

Yet when it comes to video games, I seem to end up as a constant apologist for many a derided title.

While I will generally give any game at least a chance, even ones outside my preferred genres, I think I'm pretty honest with myself and others about my real thoughts on a game.  I do tend to be very forgiving and my impressions are greatly colored by context, artistic intent, and technological limitations.  I understand some games just are not enjoyed by most folks, sometimes myself included.  Some ideas just don't translate into worthwhile game design for most players.  I wouldn't even say absolutely every video game has merit, worth, or can be enjoyed by at least someone; maybe, maybe not.  I only know my own experience and what others tell me.  Overall, I just find video games to be an incredible, powerful, wonderful media and I have a bit of default joy injected into my general thoughts about them.

So when I come to the defense of certain titles, it isn't out of some blind, forced ideal or assumed value.  That doesn't stop folks from straight up telling me I'm wrong in my opinions, as I'm sure everyone has experienced.  But it is one thing to simply say I like what I like (which would ideally be enough), and another to explain why a particular game gives me something more than a popular negative opinion.  Having spent so many years now in retail, I've had many an opportunity to explore conversations with other gamers concerning my differing opinions.  It would be inaccurate to claim I changed everyone's mind and led them to enlightened horizons.  Most of the time, at best I may correct a few false assumptions and we still part ways in comfortable disagreements.  And I won't even engage in the occasional response full of negativity, anger, and outright hostility that befuddled me.  We are, after all, talking about video games and the world has enough vitriol; I have no desire to regurgitate such.

Anyway, while I was comfortably lying in bed and ready to fall asleep after a long, tough day, this article and these three games popped into my head.  I knew if I didn't get up and start writing I'd likely forget.  And you guys should only put up with so many articles extolling the delights of couch-co-op and lists of smaller release games before I get punted from the site.  There are many many more titles on which I could easily write as an apologist, so perhaps this will eventually be a series.  Onward!

Dead Space 3

I was on-board with the original Dead Space even before release, and enjoyed it as much as I hoped.  Then Dead Space 2 upped the ante and I enjoyed it as much, for slightly different reasons I won't distract with here.  Turns out I was in the minority for Dead Space 3, in that I again enjoyed it as much as the first two and again for different reasons.  The first game had a very intimate, lonely feel akin to the original Alien movie it borrowed from yet honored so well.  The second game ratcheted up the tension and chaos while playing heavily off the first game.  But was the third that went straight-up Aliens style action with tinges of horror. 

It made thematic sense; two games in, series hero Isaac was no longer just a survivor/engineer, he was an experienced combat veteran with a specialist knowledge of the Necromorph menace.  It also made gameplay sense; even the second game felt like the series had pretty much expanded what it logically could with the design, and while it was well crafted and engaging it couldn't expand too far without breaking the mold; a third game in that mold simply couldn't continue the flow without feeling like too much more of the same, great as it had been for two games.  And where the third game broke that mold, it still preserved the series continuity; gun-crafting was a logical extension to the upgrade systems from the previous games and the fact that Isaac is an engineer by trade.  It also fit into the more action-oriented feel of the game, and Isaac literally attempting to more proactively take the fight to the Necromorph source.  The lore from the first two games is finally expanded and allowed to breathe, giving the game's universe a grander scope hinted at but never displayed from the previous games.  Even the often maligned co-op design, which admittedly skews the lonely horror-vibe, played into the hallucinations and encroaching violent madness between the two leads.  Most importantly I still say it is a straight-up fun game to play co-op.

I think a "safer" sequel too close to the design of the first two would have not only drawn the design too thin for another good game, but the monotony of the same may have even left a more sour note on the greatness of the first two.  By expanding in new directions based off of them, I greatly appreciate what Dead Space 3 pulled off.  I played through it both single player and with a friend, and I'd easily be up for it again.

No Man's Sky

Yeah, I did a lengthy write-up on it, so I won't expand too much here.  But after reading through Sean Murray (Founder of Hello Games, daddy of the game) interviews since then, I really appreciate how he comments that the initial game that shipped (well, after the massive day-one patch) was more or less the vision he had and wanted.  Features that were shown were cut, sure, but the overall experience was what Mr. Murray wanted; a lonely, exotic, slow-paced, ethereal wandering survival adventure.  And when I put several dozen hours into that initial release, I really felt that.  I resonated completely with the design intent of that game and I marveled with it for many, many days; the game brought to me exactly where the designer had hoped for, and I'm grateful for that.

Fallout 76

Here's where I'm going to delve a bit further, as reaction to this title inspired me to start this article.

I'm as surprised as anyone that this is on this list.  I wasn't going to get 76 anytime soon, even before the negative reviews came out, because I don't tend to pursue online-only games.  I make exceptions, sure (Destiny/2, WH40K Inquisiter Martyr) but between that and Bethesda games generally needing a few patches post release to really tighten the game, I assumed I'd pick it up on sale awhile after release and give it a go.  After all, as my last article stated, I've hardly had any home screen-time to put into such a release anyway, and I have tinsy winsy little amount of gaming backlog to take into account.

Ah, but life never follows our chosen path.  As it happens a longtime co-op buddy of mine, an extremely critical gamer who did not nearly enjoy Fallout 4 as much as I did, decided to take the plunge... and was very happy with the game!  He thought we would both enjoy it, yet I was still not convinced.  Then during my Black Friday shopping, behold, here is Fallout 76 for half the initial price.  Perhaps a warning for some.  Yet my buddy and I have the ability to get a lot of enjoyment even from lousy games if they have co-op, so it seemed worth it to at least play with him.

I popped it in during my workout and was immediately reminded of Fallout 4 and how much I missed it.  I figured mentioning Fallout 4 on this list along with 76 would end up redundant.  Let me just say that I've been a fan of the series since the first computer RPG, and with the exception of Brotherhood of Steel and an unplayed Tactics, I am a major fan of each game in the series.  Fallout 3 was jostling but in a good way to me, like traditional 2D Super Mario Bros. into Super Mario 64.  Same series, different takes on the franchise, and I appreciate both takes.

Anyway, the familiarity of 4 led to an instinctive curve with 76, and I began losing myself in this new land.  We have family in West Virginia and my beloved and I were marveling at how spot-on Appalachia looked, and all of the references and little touches that mimicked one of our favorite places in real life.  My bike workout hours flew by and I began cramming in late night hours where I could (and couldn't) spare them.  For the first time in awhile, console gaming etched back into my schedule.

For all of the ongoing criticism of bugs and problems my own experience has been exceptional.  I can honestly say I have had far more issues with 4 than 76, and the only real problems have been from server migration before starting (just leading to longer initial loads) and occasional issues finding my buddy on the same server, which sometimes takes a few tries.  Other than that, and now 30+ hours in (I got pretty sick recently and couldn't do much else, I'll blame that) and I haven't had any actual problems.  I had a whole lot more crashing and problems with Inquisitor Martyr on PS4, a game I enjoyed but was surprised at how many issues it gave me.  So far 76 on PS4 has run just fine for me, with a few hiccups and pauses after the initial load and occasionally after.  I'll be the first to admit I could be in the minority, and I don't doubt the validity of others' experiences, just mentioning it isn't universal and across the board.

As for the lack of "human" NPCs in the game this is another case where, as in No Man's Sky, I am under the impression that I connect with the developer intent.  Whereas previous games took place centuries after the bombs dropped, 76 takes place only 25 years afterward.  The premise is an attempt to immediately reclaim the land from hostile forces to rebuild America.  Thus, not only is survival extremely difficult due to radiation and mutated critters, but disease and illness are now factored in as well as hunger and thirst.  As the bombs wiped out most of humanity, the only non-vault-dwelling survivors attempted to come together and survive, generally to unsuccessful ends.  It makes perfect thematic sense why there are no human survivors, but I personally feel critics that claim this means there is no real story miss much of the excellent writing and world building used instead.

Yes, there are constant bread-crumb trails from obviously now-deceased quest givers, but there really isn't much difference between how 76 tells the narrative and the last few Fallout games.  Technically speaking, the structure is much the same with or without a polygonal model attached to the voice-over.  Arguably the biggest difference is the lack of specific "sides" to join.  The various faction choices so elemental to many other games in the series, particularly fan favorite New Vegas, is only present in abstract ways to be sure.  I'd be the first to say that if New Vegas was your favorite modern game in the series 76's design is obviously not built for that.  I have always found the different factions element interesting and worthwhile but not essential (and there I know I part ways with many a fan of the series.)  For example my own take is that as good as New Vegas is, it felt less Fallout to me and more like a good RPG that happened to take place in the same universe.  Much time was spent developing and deciding between competing factions, and while it is a great narrative adventure, the rest of the components that make it a Fallout game were not as prominent.  Not a problem, just a preference. 

In contrast the stories in 76 are by design less political but no less personal, with countless holo tapes, notes, visual references, and robots telling different interesting tales.  Even the main narrative, which involves tracking down your vault overseer on her own personal mission, has touching and well-written moments.  To say there is no amount of story in 76 is absurd to me; it just tells its tales in a different way than most seem to be looking for.

So far 76 has enamored me with its slower and at times even contemplative pacing.  The map is huge and filled with stuff I find interesting, from creative buildings and picturesque landscapes to series lore callbacks and icons.  Folks have complained about the graphics but when the light filters through the trees at the base of a mountain, I feel a little sad for those who aren't noticing the beauty I'm taking in.  I've been delighted at exploring so many neat new locations and environments, all with that classic Fallout motif.  Between the extended base-building and crafting, just hanging out in the creative elements can whittle away hours.  Like any RPG, this is not a game designed to pop in and out of, but to sit and hang out for awhile.

Finally, I would be remiss to mention that I am extremely grateful that Bethesda designed an online game to keep trolling to a relative minimum.  Besides the always online requirement, one of the first turn-offs to me was the knowledge of how many online experiences I've had ruined by obnoxious individuals.  High praise to Bethesda for building a game that encourages co-operation but does not require it, and allows some PVP but protects those (like me) who have no interest in it.  Aside from F-bombs from unmuted randoms, playing with others has only yielded positive results, and how many online games can make that claim?  My buddy and I could literally spend all day playing 76 if we were able.

Is 76 for everyone?  No game is.  What about series fans?  Plainly, if you liked Fallout 4 and want an offshoot sequel with co-op ability, here it is.  Everyone else should at least know what 76 is and what it isn't.  Aside from technical issues that I have been blessedly missing, I think the main problem folks have with 76 is wanting it to be something it wasn't originally designed to be.  I've read more than one reviewer ask, "who is this game supposed to even be for?"  Well, that would be me.  And I'm really, really enjoying it.


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I agree that Dead Space 3 is a fine game that got undeserved flak just for being different. I played through it a few years ago with a friend and enjoyed it, but that playthrough was hampered a bit by extremely long breaks between play sessions. I think it took us over a year to actually finish it. I used to play online co-op games with my friends on an almost nightly basis, but conflicting schedules over the last few years have pretty much killed that. If we can ever get it together again, I think DS3 is at the top of my list of co-op games I'd like to revisit.

Nice to hear a more positive take on Fallout 76. I was initially intrigued when the game was announced, but all the talk of it being an online game followed by all the negative press took this game off my radar. I may pick it up when it gets cheap and see if I can get some friends together to play it.
I have to sympathize with you, my friend.  I often feel the same way.  When I worked at a game store my fellows considered me odd that my favorite PSX games (at the time) were either Japanese imports or "fringe" games (Tail of the Sun, Tempest X3).  I don't do it on purpose (at least no consciously), it just happens.  I don't even bother trying to explain to folk why I am excited about Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw, or X4: Foundations; Instead I just talk about how awesome Smash looks.

Thanks for reminding me I have Dead Space 3.  I fired up Origin and am now downloading it and maybe Dragon Age: Inquisition.  I've gotta do something until the RFG NES challenge starts.
Another well written, and considered article, good sir. I have no experience with the games you wrote about, but I feel as though I could, given your ability to take me into your world with your pieces.
Once again, good stuff!

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